Symposium: Genetic Ancestry and Perceptions of Race: Impacts in Social and Medical Contexts

Detailed Symposium Event Schedule & Recordings

Morning Session I

Moderator: Daniel Hopkins, University of Pennsylvania

“They have Black in their blood”: Exploring how genetic ancestry tests affect racial appraisals and classifications

Daphne Martschenko, Stanford University, Marissa Thompson, Columbia University, & Sam Trejo, Princeton University

How do genetic ancestry tests (GATs) affect how Black Americans decide when others can – or cannot – identify as Black? This study explores the role of GATs in shaping racial appraisal and classification logics. Using a pre-registered nationally representative survey experiment that integrates causal inference with computational text analysis, we disentangle how ancestry (as measured by a GAT) affects how U.S.-born Black Americans draw boundaries around group membership and how these effects vary across setting and prior identification. We find that, though higher levels of Sub-Saharan African ancestry predict higher likelihoods of approval and classification as Black, even individuals with low levels of such ancestry are likely to have their self-identification validated by respondents, consistent with the practice of hypodescent. Furthermore, ancestry treatment effects are primarily mediated by perceptions of the integrity of the individual’s self-identification, suggesting that respondents believe there exists an underlying legitimate and honest way to identify that is partially based on one’s GAT result. However, we also find that the aspects that affect approval and evaluations differ from those that affect classification; the ways that respondents selectively integrate different sources of information, including ancestry, occurs via a dual appraisal and classification process which we term racial contextualism.

How Does Genetic Ancestry Testing Affect Perceptions of Race?

Wendy Roth, University of Pennsylvania, Ariela Schachter, Washington University St. Louis, Emily Curran, University of Pennsylvania & Alex Torrez, University of Virginia

With more than 50 million people having taken direct-to-consumer genetic ancestry tests (GATs), these tests are one of the most common ways genomic awareness has increased in the public sphere. Many scholars believe GATs will shape individuals’ beliefs about race, including that races are genetically determined. Recent research shows that GATs lead some people to change their racial identity based on the reported genetic information. However, we know little about whether those genetically-influenced identity claims are accepted by others or whether information about an individual’s genetic ancestry influences how their race is perceived. We conduct a conjoint survey experiment with 9,000 non-Hispanic Black, non-Hispanic White, and Hispanic respondents in the U.S. to assess the power of genetic ancestry, facial features, social attributes like racial self-identification before and after testing, and the social context in which racial categorization takes place on how individuals racially classify others. We also analyze differences in racial classifications based on the respondent’s race. With this rigorous experimental evidence, we are able to analyze how genomic information, relative to these other factors, influences societal norms of racial classification.

Morning Session II

Moderator: Ann Morning, NYU

Perceptions of Race in the Clinical Encounter

Vence Bonham, National Human Genome Research Institute

In 2014 Bonham and colleagues stated: “Medical advances and social and demographic changes put pressure on the skills and knowledge of the primary care physician and other health care professionals and can challenge their ability to provide comprehensive care for patients of different social, cultural, and ancestral backgrounds. With genomic and personalized medicine, we may someday move beyond race and ethnicity as a surrogate for genetic variation in health care. To move beyond race, will require health care providers to have the skills to communicate to their patients the complex concepts of population groups and human genetic variation.” Bonham, VL, Sellers SL, Woolford S (2014).  This presentation will examine perceptions of race in the clinical encounter ten years later.

“Maybe they’ll see me as less than what I am”: Institutional trustworthiness and the continued salience of difference as inequality

Janet Koo Shim, University of California, San Francisco

This presentation draws on data from two qualitative studies that examine perspectives on genetic ancestry, and whether and how they should or should not be used in healthcare interactions and electronic health records. Our ongoing analyses suggest that rather than a focus on discerning patients’ and participants’ preferences about genetic information disclosures and concerns about data privacy, interrogating institutional practices and trustworthiness is important given the continued salience of inequality in interactions.

Afternoon Session I

Moderator: Steven Joffe, University of Pennsylvania

Collaborating Globally and Equitably to Distinguish Ancestries from Racial Categories in Genomics Research and Medicine

Shawneequa Callier, George Washington University

Genomic variation knows no racial bounds; however, concepts such as race, ancestry, and genomics are often conflated in clinical contexts. Genomics researchers often describe differences in terms of broad ancestry categories, which may be misinterpreted as racial in medicine. The genomics research field is developing innovative methods, tools, and projects to leverage genomic data better. However, these innovations can only go so far in improving understanding of genomic diversity within broad ancestry and continental groups without adequate equitable global research partnerships

“Choose from the options below”

Barbara Chaiyachati, CHOP/University of Pennsylvania

Observation of health differences across population groups invites deeper inquiry. Identifying mechanisms of “why” may allow actionable interventions toward improved health and equity. Yet, source data, including that used for delineation of groups, may include rarely explored, but important, assumptions and variability.

Afternoon Session II

KEYNOTE: The Politics of Genetic Ancestry Testing and Perceptions of Race

Dorothy E. Roberts, George A. Weiss University Professor of Law and Sociology and the Raymond Pace and Sadie Tanner Mossell Alexander Professor of Civil Rights

Is GAT contesting racial boundaries or do racial self-identifications and appraisals fit GAT findings into already existing socio-political rules, norms, and interests? Race is a political invention, and approaches to GAT and perceptions of race should take account of racial politics.

Morning Session I

Morning Session II

[under construction]

Afternoon Session I

[under construction]

Afternoon Session II

[under construction]